This is what happens when a student discovers compassion and her school does not.

 

In the school district around us, East Allen County Schools, very little has been done to help with understanding of gay and lesbian students. While there are a few exceptions, many of the schools are fairly isolated rural schools with a non diverse population and limited exposure to differences. In one of the most isolated, a small rural junior high / high school, one student took it upon herself to try to bridge the gap in understanding of gay and lesbian students. She wrote an opinion letter to the school newspaper which published her first-person appeal for tolerance and equal protections for gays and lesbians and she was inspired to do so when a friend told her he was gay.

 

Here is the letter: Sophomore Megan Chase wrote this opinion for the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School newspaper, the Woodlan Tomahawk:

Student Editorial

We live in a world where we grow up being taught that it is only acceptable for a boy and a girl to be together. So how do you think you would feel if as you grew older and more mature you started noticing people of the same sex as you, rather than the opposite?

I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society. I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you. I’ve heard some people say that they think there is a cure to being homosexual. I can’t believe anyone would think that. It’s not a disease, or something that you catch from someone else; it’s something that they don’t have control over. In saying that, I also believe that homosexuality is not a choice. Almost everyone that I talk to says that a person chooses to be gay or straight. That, again, is something that I believe to be very wrong. If people made the choice to be homosexual, there wouldn’t be anyone who committed suicide because they were too afraid of what people would think of them, and kids wouldn’t be afraid of being disowned if they came out to their parents.

There is also the religious aspect to the argument, where people say that if someone is homosexual, they are automatically sent to hell. To me, that seems extremely unfair. So what are homosexual Christians supposed to do? The answer that I constantly get to that question is, “Just don’t acknowledge that they’re homosexual and live a ‘normal’ life.” Excuse me? So they’re just supposed to never find a partner, or marry someone of the opposite sex, have kids, and pretend they’re “normal?” I don’t think that’s right, or fair. I wouldn’t want to believe in something that would condemn me over something that I didn’t even choose.

It is fact that as many as 7.2 million Americans under the age of 20 are homosexual, and of those that have already come out, 28% of them felt compelled to drop out of school due to the constant verbal assault that they experienced after people found out. Now, if you think that is terrible, this is even worse: According to pflagupstatesc.org, every day 13 Americans from the ages of 15-24 commit suicide, and homosexual youths make up 30% of the completed suicides. I don’t understand why we would put so much pressure on those people, that they would feel that they have to end their lives because of their sexuality. Would it be so hard to just accept them as human beings who have feelings just like everyone else? Being homosexual doesn’t make a person inhuman, it makes them just a little bit different than the rest of the world. And for living in a society that tells you to always be yourself, it’s a hard price to pay.

 

 

Then the principal got upset and the little letter became a really big issue. He may have been reflecting that many in the community have little understanding of homosexuality a lot of negative beliefs about it. Principal Edwin Yoder wrote a letter to the newspaper staff and journalism teacher insisting on a prior review of every issue. The teacher and the students contacted the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for student newspapers, which advised them to appeal the decision.

Then Yoder issued the teacher a written warning for insubordination and not carrying out her responsibilities as a teacher. He accused her of exposing Woodlan students, who are in grades seven through 12, to inappropriate material and said if she did not comply with his orders she could be fired. And so it goes in East Allen County Schools. . . and in many other schools as well.

The editorial already has served an invaluable purpose in educating both her fellow students and EACS officials on the role of the student press. The latter should take the lesson to heart, recognizing that students are better prepared as citizens when they are afforded rights, not subjected to censorship and discipline. Principal Yoder’s actions contradict the aim of school journalism which is to provide a forum for the exchange of student opinion and it contradicts the goal of allowing students to explore journalism as a career opportunity.

OTOH - the story was read all around the United States and I have seen comments from Europe. Maybe high school journalism, with the help of the Internet, has some potential to do good things.

 

Woodlan Junior/Senior High School
17215 Woodburn Rd
Woodburn, IN

Click here to see information about the school

 

UPDATE

From the Journal-Gazette - Thu, May. 17, 2007
Punished teacher lands D.C. student-rights honor
By Kelly Soderlund

As her suspension winds down and she awaits a transfer to a different school, an embattled local teacher jetted to Washington to receive an award for her fight for student rights.

Former Woodlan High School teacher and journalism adviser Amy Sorrell received the Mary Beth Tinker Award from American University’s law school and the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project on Wednesday.

Tinker gained national attention as a 13-year-old in 1965 when the Des Moines, Iowa, school board tried to bar her and some classmates from wearing black armbands to mourn soldiers killed in Vietnam. Some students were suspended for their actions.

The case eventually went to the Supreme Court that, in a landmark decision in 1969, ruled that students in public schools do have First Amendment rights.

Sorrell’s actions generated widespread headlines this year after her Woodlan principal demanded each edition of the school newspaper be approved before it went to print. The action came after the paper printed a student’s column advocating tolerance toward homosexuals.

Sorrell, 30, was ultimately put on paid leave and cited for insubordination, neglect of duty and substantial inability to perform teaching duties. She recently reached a settlement with East Allen County Schools district, which transferred her to Heritage Junior-Senior High School, barred her from teaching journalism for three years and required her to issue a written apology.

Sorrell detailed her experiences to American University law students and the high school students they mentor at a luncheon Wednesday.

“I challenge all of you here today to take a step toward protecting student rights,” an excerpt from Sorrell’s speech said. “This is something we need to do now – not wait until you are a victim of censorship.

“We need to challenge schools to be advocates for students and to truly make schools a place for learning. Schools need to be places that harbor student rights, that encourage students’ thoughts and ideas even when they are unpopular.”

Sorrell was notified Monday that she was receiving the award and was recommended by law students who read about her case on the Internet.

Stephen Wermiel, associate director of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, feels Sorrell made the right decision by publishing the student’s column and standing up for herself and her class. “Amy’s position that this didn’t seem like something controversial … it seemed like a very logical position, and for her to have to pay this kind of consequence for engaging in a not particularly outer-limits example of freedom of the press seems unfortunate,” he said.

Having the opportunity to meet Tinker was amazing, Sorrell said. She also met the widow of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“I didn’t expect to be recognized. I would have done everything I did anyways. It makes me feel good at all the things that I’ve gone through and the students have gone through to be recognized, especially by the likes of Mary Beth Tinker,” Sorrell said. “I think that nationally, people see the bigger issue in this.”

Past recipients of the award include a teacher who protested a search of her students by drug dogs; a California judge who ruled that saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school is unconstitutional because of the words “under God”; and a lawyer who fought for a Muslim girl to wear a veil to school.

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